The Holly and the Ivy: Composting at Christmas

3 December 2012  |  HOTBIN Composting

12 Days of HOTBIN Composting

HOTBIN 12 Days of Christmas Day 1

Although not the only plant of the festive period, as the Christmas carol goes "the Holly bears the crown" placing it firmly as one of the most recognised plants of the Christmas period.

Never one for waste, HOTBIN advocates doing your very best to care for your festive horticultural delights, however despite best efforts some plants are destined not to survive so it’s always useful to know what can and can’t be composted.

Holly and Ivy

Holly and ivy are both plants with waxy leaves; a coating which acts as a protective outer layer preventing excess water loss. In terms of bacterial breakdown this can make composting leaves a lot slower which is why it’s advised to chop or shred the leaves first to increase the surface area available to bacteria and increase the speed of breakdown.

Some people advocate not composting ivy because it can be quite invasive in the rate in which it grows, however when hot composting at 40-60°c this shouldn’t be an issue.


Considered by some as a parasitic plant Mistletoe depends on a shrub or tree as a host for water and nutrients to survive. So, whether getting rid of a “plant pest” or your festive kissing is completed for the year, mistletoe with its evergreen leaves, berries and woody stems can all be composted providing leaves are shredded and stalks/stems are chopped.


Conversely the poinsettia with its rich, ruby red leaves do not have a waxy outer layer but will still require shredding even though they will compost down a lot faster than their waxy counterparts. Add into the HOTBIN with the stems and stalks once they have been chopped down.

Christmas Cactus

Native to South America, the Christmas cactus is different to the other festive plants. Part of the succulent family, the leaves retain a lot of water as part of its survival in a natural humid environment. As such the leaves have a high percentage of water meaning when adding large quantities you should also add shredded paper to help rebalance the moisture levels in the HOTBIN.

Notes on Chopping and Shredding

Chopping and shredding is essential to producing amazing compost quickly and although it can seem fiddly at times there are really good reasons behind it.  Do not add shredded leaves into the HOTBIN as a thick layer as this will restrict airflow, ensure instead that the waste is fully mixed into the top layers of the bin.

Remember a lot of festive plants seem to be a bit prickly so watch your fingers!